Know Your Enemy: Toronto FC #2
OTF’s Stephen Mangat ponders perpetual suckiness and other deep thoughts…
Major American sports leagues, particularly the NFL and MLS, are structured to discourage prolonged success and prolonged failure. Parity is the goal of the leagues; they want to create competitive balance and ensure no team’s fans become truly hopeless, yet certain franchises suck year-after-year, generation-after-generation.
This perpetual suckiness is fascinating and these franchises (e.g. Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, Chivas USA, Chicago Cubs, KC Royals) need to be studied, as it seems that it’s much harder to be consistently bad than it is to be consistently good. Lucky for you, Fire fans, you’ll have a chance to view this interesting futility this weekend when Toronto FC comes to town! So grab your binoculars and notebook as we take a look at this mess…
PLAY OUR MUSIC!!!
Ryan Nelsen is in charge, for now. Kevin Payne was recently fired as Toronto’s GM and Nelsen was his guy, as both played key roles in DC United’s 2004 MLS Cup-winning season. Payne’s replacement is Tim Bezbatchenko, who is basically a bean-counter who previously worked for the MLS “negotiating and drafting player contracts, as well as finalizing loan and transfer agreements for the import and export of players to and from MLS.” When hired, the TFC club owner stated, “Tim brings an analytical mind to the job, along with the best understanding that I’ve seen of the salary cap and how to manage it.”
So it’ll be interesting to see how Nelsen and Bez co-exist. It could work well with the coach taking care of the sporting matters and the suit handling the business ones, which is similar to how it’s done in Spain, Italy, and Germany. Or, it could be a disaster with Nelsen wanting control of not only the on-field matters (via a straight-as-an-arrow 4-4-2), but also off-field ones like player acquisition and all the training staff (a la England).
Regular starter Joe Bendik is suspended, so it’ll be Stefan Frei in net. The oft-injured Frei is probably more talented, but a preseason injury left the door open for Bendik (who has played well). It’s worth noting that Frei is out of contract at the end of the season, so it doesn’t take a genius to see why he isn’t getting much playing time.
The back four (Mark Bloom, Steven Caldwell, Doneil Henry, Ashtone Morgan) is without talent but they’re not completely inept. In fact, they’ve conceded fewer goals than Chicago this season. Nonetheless, don’t expect any slick play from the back. In the mold of their manager, they play it safe and are no frills.
Bobby Convey on the left and Alvaro Rey on the right provide the attacking thrust and the men in the center (Darel Russell, Jeremy Hall) are Dax McCartys (ie, hustlers/foulers who can’t pass more than 15 yards forward). These players, combined with Nelsen’s tactics, make it quite simple to deal with TFC, though Rey (signed in late July) looks like a real difference maker and had a hand in all four goals in TFC’s win over DC United in late September.
It’ll be newly acquired big man Bright Dike up top with either Rob Earnshaw, Andrew Wiederman, or Jonathan Osorio. It’s simple stuff in that Dike will try to win balls in the air and the other guy will run off him.
How can Chicago win?
Patient and aggressive
Chicago can dominate possession in this game, but they can’t keep the ball without creating pressure. With Anangonó up top, Lindpere and Duka have a target for crosses. With Alex and Larentowicz in midfield, the Fire have players that can shoot. And with Mike Magee, they have the league’s top goal scorer. Since Chicago can score goals in many ways, they need to keep the ball and create chances from all areas. Eventually a breakthrough will come.
Alvaro Rey is TFC’s spark and if he can be contained, TFC goes flaccid. With Chicago’s left side being a bit suspect defensively at times, Klopas needs to figure out how to handle Rey without significantly impacting the Fire’s ability to consistently attack.
Juan Luis Anangonó seems to improve with each game and he should be too much for TFC’s defenders to handle. Even if he doesn’t score, La Pantera creates space and opportunity for his teammates. So with a nod to Keyshawn Johnson, just give Anangonó the damn ball.
Good luck, Fire fans. As expected, the useless Philadelphia Union failed to win in DC last weekend and now they’re going to Montreal. Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking.
OTF’s Stephen Mangat is the plant manager of a glue factory in Marasesti, Romania. Follow him @smangat12